Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

I’ve written before about how cool it is to have guests who come back often, whom you get to know year after year while sharing a tiny part of their lives, watching them grow and go on to new opportunities. It’s sort of like having kids.

Speaking of kids, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you remember Zach, who first visited us as a twelve-year old equestrian competing in the Hampton Classic Horse show. Over the years, we’ve watched Zach grow up, moving from Children’s to Junior to Adult Jumper Class. We saw him turn 18, then 21 (the Classic often intersects with his birthday). We missed him the year that freshman orientation at his college interferred with Hampton Classic Week and knew how disappointed he was about that. We’ve seen him choose a career that will keep him involved with the show horse world, even if he doesn’t himself show anymore. And this year he returned for his 13th Classic Week with us, bringing with him his beautiful fiancee.

And a big blow up swan floatie for the pool, which they are enjoying like the kids they still are, in my mind.

I love this business.

Actually, there’s a lot of romance here at A Butler’s Manor this week. Besides our affianced couple, we’ve had a pair celebrating a mini-honeymoon and, tonight, a bride and groom. The bride is upstairs getting ready as I write. So love is definitely in the air here.

(Though not on the roads. Traffic in town on this gorgous, oh-no-it’s-almost-end-of-summer Saturday is diabolical. It’s a great day to be at the beach.)

In other Hampton Classic news, we are proud of another guest of ours competing in the Adult Jumper class. Look at all these ribbons!! Congratulations, Deb!!

It seems strange to have the Classic finishing up and still have another week until Labor Day. It’s a long summer this year: Memorial Day fell on the earliest date it can, May 25, and Labor Day will fall the latest day it can, on September 7. But hey, we think a longer summer is better than a blue moon!!


Quote of the day: Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the starts. To sit on a branch and study the clouds. –Regina Brett  

Breakfast à trois, and other thoughts

Only three!

It’s the week before Labor Day, historically one of our busiest weeks of the year, and yet this morning I have only three for breakfast. Four of our guests were out early this morning to participate in the Hampton Classic Horse Show, and another two were heading to Montauk to go whale watching. It seems so funny to have made more “care packages” than full breakfasts, especially during high season. As we are serving Grand Marnier French Toast, which is prepped the night before and then baked off in the morning, I feel like I am rattling around this morning with almost nothing to do other than prepare a fresh fruit starter and fry some bacon! I am positively discombobulated!

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were cleaning up after Hurricane Irene, counting ourselves lucky to been dealt only a glancing blow. Today, we’re experiencing a perfect beach day, with one eye on the TV to track Isaac’s progress over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast… communities that, after Katrina, know better than anywhere never to underestimate a hurricane. My heart goes out to them as they wait for the storm.

Lots of fun these past weeks, as old friends and new stayed at A Butler’s Manor. It’s just not summer without some of our great repeat guests! And they keep my creativity flowing, as it relates to breakfasts. I’ve mentioned before that I keep notes of what I serve each day, as I try not to repeat a breakfast entree (unless specifically requested!). In the past week, we have had three of our most frequent repeat guests visiting us…had their visits overlapped, planning breakfast REALLY would have been challenging!  (Okay, I admit: For Walter, whose business out here has made him our most frequent guest –over 30 visits, totalling just about 60 nights– I’ve given up trying not to duplicate a recipe. He’s had everything in my cookbook, and then some. Bless him, he’s up for anything I might try, too!)

As summer winds to a close this year, I’ve noticed less people avoiding gluten, but more who profess not to be egg lovers. Usually when folks tell me this and I follow up on it, I discover that they just don’t like “obvious” eggs, such as fried eggs, but that eggs baked into a strata, for example, are fine. Recently, we had two of of ten guests who were “not egg fans,” and thus I made a new (to me), easy non-egg savory breakfast; my version of baked ham and cheese croissants using Pillsbury crescent rolls. Simple, easy, and so tasty! Chris was fighting me for the extras!

Post-Labor Day, 2010

And there you have it, the Summer of 2010, which came in with a shout: the best weather over Memorial Day (sunny and hot!) and exited with a whimper called Hurricane Earl on Labor Day. Except that Earl was a no-show, tiptoeing by 200 miles offshore on Friday night with only a little rain and wind in his backpack. It was, however, enough to spook many visitors to the area who would’ve otherwise made the holiday the last hurrah of the season. Pity, too, as the sun was back in full force on Saturday, and it was a spectacular day for the Grand Prix event on Sunday at the Hampton Classic.

Still, it was a nice weekend and guests enjoyed themselves, and the day after Labor Day it was immediately Autumn in the Hamptons…clear, sunny days in the low 70’s, with temps dropping in the evenings. The minute that sun drops behind the dune, you need your hoodie!

Chris and I had a chance to enjoy a picnic on the beach the other evening after all the guests had checked in, savouring an East Coast sunset (above) with our wine and smoked salmon. (How much better does Life get!?!) But the signs of the encroaching Fall are already upon us…I saw my first horse chestnut on Labor Day weekend, a chevron of Canadian geese honking their noisy way toward the south on Tuesday, and we’re all donning jackets to enjoy live entertainment on the deck at Tiderunners or at the North Fork vineyards, as we had a chance to experience again this past Sunday.

Caroline Doctorow (yes, THAT Doctorow, daughter of E.L., author of such classics as Ragtime) is a talented folk/blues musican who lives out here on the East End. On Sunday, she was the featured performer at Peconic Bay Vineyards, one of the North Fork wineries who we enjoy and recommend to guests interested in spending a lovely weekend afternoon listening to live entertainment on the peaceful grounds of a working vineyard. We like Peconic Bay’s La Barrique Chardonnay, which reminds me of California’s Napa Valley chards, and Chris of France’s Chassagne Montrachet. We met friends for a early dinner at the Frisky Oyster in Greenport, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a rare chance that we can get away as far as the North Fork until the off-season, and a great chance to be able to initiate or renew our acquaintance with locations old and new, so that we can better share them with our guests.

It is a marvelous time to come visit. The frayed tempers and traffic common in July and August have gone, the air is clear and the light beautiful, and all is far more calm and peaceful. Enjoy it with us!

Quote of the Day: Happiness is a wine of the rarest vintage, and seems insipid to a vulgar taste. –Francois, Duc de la Rochefoucauld

Hampton Classic Horse Show

The last week of August is the annual Hampton Classic Horse Show, a stellar week-long equestrian event held in Bridgehampton. It is one of the great entertainment values out here — every day except the final Sunday (Grand Prix), attendance for a whole carload costs only $20. (By contrast, parking at Cooper’s Beach costs twice that. Which is why we offer shuttle service to the beach! –but I digress…) I haven’t been able to attend the Classic for probably ten years now, but this year I was determined to go at least once, to see my favorite equestrian.

Zach, his mom, and often his father and grandmother have been guests at A Butler’s Manor every Classic week since we opened in 2002, and I look forward to their visit every year. When we first met, Zach was a few days shy of 12 years old, a serious little guy with a shy smile and a big appreciation for my breakfasts. (I always plan a menu that includes Southwest Souffle, Banana French Toast and blueberry muffins during his visit.) He’ll turn 18 next week, and every year, I’ve wanted to go see him compete. Yesterday I finally got a chance to do so.

The Classic has grown in scope since the last time I attended. Yesterday, I counted 2 (3?) show rings besides the Grand Prix ring, plus a couple of training rings and practice areas. It is a joy just to watch the riders warming up their mounts. The show rings are gorgeous…reminiscent of a beautifully-landscaped backyard that just happens to have fences to jump. The boutique arcade has nearly as many shopping stalls as Bridgehampton has shops. And there is a good-sized food arcade, tents with exhibits, pony rides for the kids, and lots more –kind of like a small scale country fair with an emphasis on horses. What is really impressive are the horse stalls, which are under huge tents on either side of the grounds. Some of the stalls have little rooms adjacent to the horse enclosures where the owners, trainers, riders can hang out in between competitions. Some of these stalls look like outdoor living rooms and have real furniture, and even rugs on the ground…and some of the tack trunks are so gorgeous, I’d like one for our living room!

I didn’t know where or even when Zach would be competing — two or three competitions per show ring are listed starting at 8 AM, the length of the event determined by the size of the class. I found the High Junior Jumper Class in the Grand Prix ring, and amazingly, it was just about to start when I found a seat in the bleachers.

Watching a jumping event is awesome — the synchronicity of horse and rider as they approach and take the jumps is incredible to behold. The polish of these young riders belies their age. They sit astride their horses with such grace, and of course, in full dress, they are beyond elegant. And oh, the horses. Sleek and groomed, manes braided or beribboned, every piece of brass or silver polished to a high shine…The first few riders took down a fence or two during their round. I think the field of some 24 riders was nearly a third of the way through before a rider was “clear” — no fences, no faults. From that point, the tension really builds, as to place, the riders must complete the circuit in the shortest amount of time without toppling a fence.

Zach was announced approximately 2/3 through the field. By this time, I had alerted everyone sitting around me, so we were all collectively holding our breath as he urged his glossy chestnut horse over the fences. The triple jump was closest to me — three fences close together. Seven people I’d never before met were all counting aloud one…two…three! as he cleared each of the bars. Across the ring, over a double, then two last fences and…he was clear! And he was in fourth place on the leader board! (The blurry picture of him jumping the gate, above, was taken with hands as nervous –and proud!– as I know his mother Deborah was as well!)

The second to last contender had a fantastic circuit that catapulted her into the lead, so Zach finished fifth…but the first six places are ribboned, and get to participate in a victory canter around the ring. That’s him riding up to collect his ribbon. I feel like a proud parent!!

Only drawback for Zack: The better he does, the earlier his trainer wants him at the show! — so he misses out on our hot breakfast entree! (Consolation prize: a daily care package with muffins, fresh fruit, breakfast bars and bottles of water.) But the swimming pool sure feels great in the late afternoons after a hot day on the back of a horse…

Quote of the Day: A horse can lend its rider the speed and strength he or she lacks, but the rider who is wise remembers it is no more than a loan. —Pam Brown

Free Entertainment

I admit it, most things in and around the Hamptons are not cheap, especially in the summer. Which is why it’s wonderful to share some of the best things we’ve found you can do here for little or no money.

Our favorite event here in Southampton is the Concerts in the Park series held at Agawam Park on Wednesdays between July 4th and Labor Day weekends. The band might be R&B/rockabilly (like the perennial local favorite group, the Lone Sharks), reggae, Big Band, Latin Jazz, 50’s and 60’s, or many other styles. It almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that you grab a beach chair from the back porch, pick up a sandwich at Schmidt’s or Job’s Lane Deli or a pizza at La Parmigiana, uncork a bottle of wine, and enjoy the sounds of music in the open air as the sun sets over the park and the sight of the little children (and sometimes adults!) dancing in front of the bandstand. The event is free, but the Southampton Cultural Center, who organizes it each year, sends out a bucket brigade at intermission to collect donations, and we encourage people to put what they can in that bucket…this is a wonderful resource that we stand to lose without support.

Other communities out here have outdoor concerts as well — Montauk, on the village green on Monday evenings in July, Sag Harbor at Marine Park on Bay Street on Thursdays in August.

Chris and I haven’t had the opportunity to catch one of the games of the new Hamptons Baseball League, part of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, but they are fielding several talented teams this year, with games nearly every day of the week in various locations around the Hamptons (Southampton/Stony Brook University, right up the road, is our nearest venue). The ACBL is sanctioned by the NCAA, partially funded by Major League Baseball and is one of only nine summer leagues approved by the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball, so these guys are good!! More information here.

Not free, but mighty cheap for a full day of fun (and somehow, an event you’d almost expect to be in the Hamptons during the summer season): Go watch a polo match. For six weeks midsummer, Mercedes Benz sponsors the Polo Challenge matches in Bridgehampton. Okay, so you don’t have a friend with VIP passes to get you in the tent, but $20 a carload will get you bleacher or tailgate seats (and you’ll actually get to see the match). Never seen polo up close and personal? This is a fast moving sport, and the horses are incredibly trained.

One of the best values ever is the annual Hampton Classic Horse Show, which this year will take place August 23 – 30 off Snake Hollow Road in Bridgehampton. All ages compete in world-class hunting and jumping events, and Olympic champions often compete in the Grand Prix event on the final Sunday afternoon. Events on the days up until the Grand Prix are $20 a carload, with a fantastic shopping arcade of related merchandise to wander through, and the Grand Prix itself, a premier equestrian event, is $20 per person for bench seats, $30 for premium seats. (Just for fun, you can check out the celebrities competing in their own right for media attention in the VIP tent opposite the ring.) Bring your hat and some sunscreen and see some exquisite horsemanship — you’ll be whistling My Fair Lady’s “Ascot Gavotte” as you go.

Finally, many guests here have been enjoying our favorite free entertainment each night: Firefly season in Chris’s garden. Fireflies have been working their magic each night from dusk on, sparkling against the backdrop of the deep green foliage and illuminating the ghostly white flowers of the Annabelle hydrangeas, spireas, and astilbes with their brief, teasing radiance. And for those like me, who didn’t grow up in an area where fireflies are summer residents, it’s worth the stroll out of the car park at A Butler’s Manor past Mrs. Jagger’s field next door, where the sheer abundance of fireflies in their preferred habitat makes the open space a fairy-lit wonderland, almost like a miniature holiday display.

Who says you can’t enjoy yourself in the Hamptons without spending a lot of money?

Quote of the Day: The summer night is like a perfection of thought. —Wallace Stevens